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Does the Suit Make the (Wo)Man?: A Quick Guide to the Top Wearables in Construction

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Imagine getting ready for another day on the jobsite. You put on your hard hat and it tells you the high temperatures for the day, while reminding you to stay hydrated. You slip into your safety vest and it analyzes the parts of your back that you strained last week and gives you alternate ideal working positions. You put on your protective glasses and it shows you what the completed project will look like. Sound crazy? Well these additions to your workday routine are coming sooner than you may think. The construction industry is ripe for wearable tech. Early adopters are claiming improved job site safety and significant boosts to productivity. 

But risks, especially for smart wearables, are slowing adoption. Travelers Insurance Company puts those risks into three categories: 

  • Bodily injury

  • Errors and omissions

  • Security

Another factor slowing smart wearable adoption in construction is the painstaking product development cycles. For example, a smart safety vest has been in development for three years with no planned product release date. There’s also a smart helmet that’s been in development for six years, making no additional progress.  

The benefits of wearables, however, make development cycles and risks simply speed bumps on their way to widespread adoption. Here are the top wearables in construction based on their likelihood of showing up on a jobsite near you in the not-too-distant future:

  1. Headgear lighting
  2. Wearable location tracking devices
  3. Eyewear with onboard computers
  4. Hard hats that extend smartphone capabilities
  5. Smart hard hats with augmented reality features
  6. Devices and body wear that track heart rate and stress levels 
  7. Wearable devices, and devices embedded in clothing that warn of heat stress

Headgear for Light, Not Your Pearly Whites 

The options for attaching lighting to hard hats and other headwear expand each year to make them more useful in a wider variety of situations. Now, you can expect to see more headwear lighting specifically for safety. Besides using the reflective approach, which depends on external light sources, there are options now that emit their own light. Small clip-on LEDs were the beginning, but bolder solutions followed. For example, the Halo Light wraps around the hard hat brim creating a ring of light that is visible for up to a quarter mile. The rechargeable battery lasts 12 hours. 

Where’s Waldo? Location Tracking on the Jobsite

Construction relies on many moving parts, and on many moving people. So there is always movement underway to keep track of everything, people included. But, this goes further than trying to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be. It is also very much about making sure people are safe, especially workers in remote locations. Expect to see more of these wearables in 2017. 

GPS bracelets are part of an entire hosted system so people can be located even inside buildings. They rely not just on GPS, but also the cell phone GSM network. The bracelet will send a position every 20 seconds, and the wearer can simply trigger an alarm by pulling on the bracelet. These solutions are available in several types of wearables including badges and ID tags.

The other advantages of wearable location devices include getting a better picture of movements needed for specific activities and finding new ways to optimize workflows. They can also help keep sites more secure by ensuring only authorized people are accessing specific areas.

Through the Looking Glass: Smart Eyewear

The options in this wearable category are expanding rapidly. For example, the Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses are already on the market, offering an Android-based computer right at eye level. It has an on-board processor, can record, and includes wireless connectivity. These types of eyewear offer many of the features you would get with the latest headgear technology, but in a smaller frame. A key advantage with glasses of these types is the availability of applications. As competition continues heating up in this sector, expect to see prices coming down as early as 2017.

Your New Multi-Purpose Hard Hat: Smart Headgear

Since headgear, in the form of hard hats, is pretty much a given on most construction sites, it makes sense to make them multi-purpose. That’s what the makers of the Daqri Smart Helmet are doing. The lightweight hard hat has on-board technology like sensors, cameras, WiFi, thermal views, and a computer. The wearer can capture 360 degree views and superimpose 3D architectural plans on top of the images. The resulting picture lets them see not only how a finished installation should look, but they can also easily detect where there are clashes with existing installations. 

When multiple people use these helmets at once, they can map a building and create a model of it by sharing their recordings. Other uses include guided work instructions overlaid on the actual environment, and real time collaboration on technical issues. This wearable is currently in an “early adopter” program and there is a developer version that debuted October 31 for $15,000.

Another entrant in the headgear field that should be showing up on jobsites in 2017 is the eHat. This is an approved hard hat featuring hands-free, streaming video and audio. The hands-free aspect allows the wearer to have a conversation with a remote party who can also view what the wearer is viewing. This can greatly reduce the complexity of explaining a punch list issue, or showing why a certain product doesn’t meet the specifications. It will also be handy for recording activities in progress, and for collecting evidence to back up claims.

Is it a Spidey Suit or a Batman Suit? Nope, it’s Sensitive Wear

While biological wearables have had trouble gaining traction in the consumer markets over the past few years, the business world has continued making slow and steady progress in bringing the technology of monitoring vitals to maturity. Most efforts are in the healthcare sector for tracking patient health. Bio wearables specifically designed for the work site are still largely confined to partnerships between biosensor developers like human condition SAFETY, dorsaVi, and shimmer. These partnerships focus on measuring stressors on the human body related to specific tasks like brick laying. Other partnerships take a pilot program approach to validating bio wearables on real construction job sites.    

Some companies aren’t waiting for vendors to get job-specific devices to market. Barclays, Go Daddy, and BMC Software set up deals with Fitbit to offer health trackers to their employees as part of their wellness programs. MISFIT offers to work with companies in helping them reach their employee health and wellness goals, and will also integrate company apps with Misfit devices.

The research arms of universities are also active in developing bio-sensing units that are wearable. One effort in its third year at Virginia Tech will alert highway workers to dangerous oncoming traffic. RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, developed a smart vest that senses when the wearer’s heart rate and body temperature enter dangerous territory. It then sends the data wirelessly to a smartphone which issues an alert. When Accenture surveyed insurance companies in early 2016 about their expectations for when bio-wearables would start having measurable impact on industry, the consensus was “within two years.” 


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